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Self defense against a shooter in the building, part 1

REMINDER: The bombing and shooting in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik (77 dead) once again showed the potentially high body count an active shooter can inflict on an unarmed and untrained citizenry.

This two-part article I wrote in 2009 arms you with information about this abrupt type of attack:


“{It’s} just absolutely surreal to think that something like this could happen on a week night at a gym working out.”

shooterandselfdefenseThese words came from a fitness gym member in Pennsylvania right after the cowardly shooter George Sodini pulled out hand guns and opened fire in an exercise class filled with women in 2009, killing three.

To me, there is nothing surreal about it.

It’s as real as it gets.

And yet, as frequently as mass shootings (Dynamic Active Shooters) hit the news, most people haven’t a clue what to do when a shooter pumped up on adrenaline and a death wish enters their building. But it is at that time self defense skills are most critical.

Some think  they don’t need self defense —  that’s what the police are for right–to defend us?  But as trained and dedicated as they may be, the police respond to events after the fact. We are responsible for our self defense before that moment.

So how do you handle and survive a situation with a shooter at school, work, at church, or in the recent case, during exercise?

First know some facts. These are taken from www.policeone.com and officerresource.com articles. Both include interviews with Ron Borsch, a 30-year law enforcement veteran. He is talking about the need to change law enforcement response to Dynamic Active Shooters. He is not talking about potential citizen response. Nor is he talking about terrorists or a gunman holding hostages who is not on a shooting spree. The information Borsch presents, however, is fascinating and instructive to everyone:

“Time is our {law enforcement’s} worst adversary in dealing with active killers,” Borsch told Force Science News. “We’re racing what I call ‘the Stopwatch of Death.’ Victims are often added to the toll every several seconds … … average post-Columbine ‘rapid mass murder episode’ lasts just 8 minutes …” www.policeone.com

“In reality, (not theory), and round numbers, rapid mass murder has been aborted primarily by a single courageous actor. Fifty percent (50%) have been UNARMED citizens, 25% were armed citizens, and the remainder, have been police officers, (also primarily initiated by a SOLO officer).” officerresource.com

“The active killer, merely by his choice of victims, (the defenseless), is a COWARD. Typically, these cowards act alone (98%), and have an end-plan to commit suicide (90%), before the police arrive and ‘hurt’ them … In the cowards race to complete his last act, he is very likely to be preoccupied, (another empowering point), while making his body-count statement, for anyone courageous enough to act.” officerresource.com

Again, those quotes were a discussion of response tactics for police to Active Shooters, not hostage situations, but they help you understand the mindset of such rapid mass killers a little better. With those points in mind, here are the first key points in self defense, survival, and Thinking Like a Black Belt with an active shooter.  The remaining points are posted in part two, including what to do during the attack and its aftermath.

In self defense classes, I often ask, “If you had to run out of your house at night, do you know where to run? Do you know the best places to hide and the obstacles — ditches, cactus plants, dead ends — to avoid?”

The same kind of planning and awareness is key to having an advantage in a shooting. Before an event happens, use your self defense thinking cap and get to know the buildings you frequent and take these precautions:

  • Note the exits and all routes to them so you can get to them even in the dark.
  • Walk through the building looking for mirrors, glass, shiny metal, framed artwork, or even door knobs that allow you to see reflections. A reflection that allows you to see activity around a corner, from another floor, or in another office may be the only safe way to see where a shooter is without exposing yourself.
  • Know where secure rooms are so you and co-workers can lock them from the inside.
  • Find and remember hiding areas in the basement or roof or janitorial supply room or out-of-the-way utility access areas.
  • Pay attention to where fire extinguishers, fire hoses, and fire alarms are located (this will make sense when discussed in part two).
  • Keep a flashlight on your key ring or in your purse. Have one in your work area, too.
  • Know where the first aid kit is.
  • Run through your mind what items you could throw through a window to break it.
  • Take a look at how to exit through a window — are there pipes or bricks with easy toe-holds if you are two or more stories high?
  • Look outside for safe directions to run so you don’t end up in a dead-end alley, facing a security fence, or trapped in a walled-in loading dock area.
  • Talk to co-workers or your company about plans of action.


  • Learn the knot that will tie ropes or cords of two different diameters together to make a longer rope. Remember, the rope only has to get you far enough down to allow you to drop from a lesser height.
  • Take some lessons in how to jump, land, and roll.   And here is a detailed video of just the Parkour roll.


NEXT POST: Part Two of  “What you can do about a shooter in the building”


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Photo credit:  peteSwede

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kim August 7, 2009, 3:07 pm

    Thank you for this. I teach fitness classes and have always considered an emergency exit, but have gotten lazy about it, then brought it back into focus for me. People always tease me for being the “safety mom” but after being assulted 3 times in my life, I tend to pay attention to my surroundings. Let’s just say I have a mean kick…… 🙂

  • TrinaMb August 8, 2009, 7:16 am

    knowledge is power, thanks for shairng your knowledge so we can all be empowered.

  • Betsy Wuebker August 8, 2009, 7:58 am

    Hi Lori – I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed when I read the title of this post. Thank you for giving us the steps to become more vigilant and yes, more responsible for our own safety.

  • Lori Hoeck August 8, 2009, 8:54 am

    Hi Kim,
    Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

    Odds are, you or I will never have to undergo the trauma of an Active Shooter, but isn’t it nice to be alert with a survivor’s mindset that can kick into high gear when needed?

    Hi TrinaMb,
    Thank you for visiting, commenting and tweeting today! (Twitter let me tweet twice yesterday, but down again for me today.) Thank you for getting the word out!

    Hi Betsy,
    Thank you for your kind, supportive words.

    The Active Shooter stats make the need to be aware and vigilant even more critical. Sheesh, it’s a sad state of affairs when we have to come up with phrases like “rapid mass murder episode.”

  • janice August 8, 2009, 12:31 pm

    Wonderful! I watched the jump and roll videos with my son and he said “Cool!” I’ll check out the knots after this. This blog is where I don’t feel weird for wanting to feel prepared. (I already have a torch and mini whistle on my key ring!) Stuff like this happens. But even if it’s only a minor incident, like the lights going out in a toilet with no window, a simple thing like knowing you have a mini flashlight stops panic and it’s panic that often kills.

  • janice August 8, 2009, 12:36 pm

    I can tie a sheet bend!! Thank you!

  • Barbara Swafford August 9, 2009, 11:56 pm

    Hi Lori,

    I’m so happy you wrote about this. When I heard the news, my first thought was, “what did those women do/think when the lights went out?”. I can’t imagine what when through their head when they began to hear shots.

    I have a flashlight on my keyring. Although I haven’t had to use it yet, it makes me feel a little bit more secure knowing it’s there.

  • Marc August 10, 2009, 4:13 am

    Another great post in its practicality. Thanks Lori.

    How does that saying go? Chance favours the prepared mind?

  • Lori Hoeck August 10, 2009, 8:56 am

    Hi Janice,
    I love how you love to learn! Thank you for the enthusiasm.

    Hi Barbara,
    My thoughts were “How cowardly can you get?” He could see in a glance, none of the woman were armed or likely to attack him. I’m just glad he didn’t blame his lack of manhood and inabilities on babies and go into a hospital nursery instead.

    Hi Marc,
    Thank you, Marc. The prepared mind can be a gold mine and a life saver!

  • Kathy | Virtual Impax August 10, 2009, 2:55 pm

    It’s rather empowering to read the 50% of the people who STOP these rapid mass murders are average unarmed citizens. These everyday “heroes” have obviously practiced “thinking like a black belt”.

    Thanks so much for laying out these “mental” exercises and linking to the videos and tutorials! This is possibly a real life “life saver” post!

  • cindy platt August 11, 2009, 11:26 pm

    Thanks for keeping us on our toes. I love this site. You are helping so many people.

  • Lori Hoeck August 12, 2009, 11:58 am

    Hi Kathy,
    That is an amazing statistic, isn’t it?

    I’m glad you appreciate my writing and approach to the subject. It’s been very rewarding for me to share it as well.

    Hi Cindy,
    Thank you, thank you. Some of the feedback from readers has been amazing. I guess our uncertain times make people are hungry for the kind of information I can provide.

  • Manny September 21, 2009, 2:44 pm

    Get your CWP (Concealed Weapons Permit) make it a habit to carry your personal defense firearm and shoot the looney that tries to kill you.
    I would like to see what good a fire hose and a flashlight are going to do when some nut job comes in guns blazing murdering innocent people.
    That first aide kit filled with band aids and pain reliever is going to come in real handy when some is gushing blood and has internal bleeding from a bullet wound.
    People in our country need to understand, accept, and practice the second amendment.
    “All human life is equal in value, until a human life decides yours is worth less. At this point he is not human.” – Unknown

  • Lori Hoeck September 21, 2009, 9:32 pm

    Hi Manny,
    Thank you for stopping by to comment.

    Not everyone is comfortable with weapons, and they have the right in this country not to exercise their second amendment rights. Such is the nature of true freedom. Although I’m quite comfortable with weapons of all sorts, the writing on Think Like A Black Belt is dedicated to other options. One reason is that people aren’t always going to have a weapon on them, such as when showering or taking a yoga class.

    I explain in part two of this series on Active Shooters about the use of expedient weapons and how a group can take on a shooter. You are right that many first aid kits are woefully stocked. My hope is that readers take an EMT class and as more aware employees, they demand better.

    As a martial artist and peaceful warrior, I don’t agree with your quote. Starting down that road of thinking can lead to minimizing life more and more easily. I may have to take a life in self defense, and am fully prepared to do so, but I will never minimize the gravity — or humanity — of the moment.

  • Marc September 22, 2009, 6:44 am

    Some interesting points there Manny.

    However, Lori also has an international audience to consider. Here in the UK we have no right whatsoever to bear arms, even carrying a knife is a crime.

    So alternative means of self-defense is always a welcome thing.

  • Lori Hoeck September 22, 2009, 7:51 am

    Hi Marc,
    Thank you for weighing in. Your international perspective is enlightening and welcome.

  • Manny September 22, 2009, 4:59 pm

    To Lori: I am trying to understand where you are coming from as far as not lowering the gravity of such an action as taking a human life. However, during my Martial Arts training which has been a part of my life since the age of four, I have been taught three core values. First is to never initiate a fight. Second is to fight as if though you are dead, this mindset allows a person to deal with a situation effectively. Third is to never show mercy where mercy would not have been shown.
    What I aim to show with this is that taking a human life is not an option. Killing a rabid dog is. People that commit such atrocities such as, The Columbine Killers, The Virginia Tech Shooter, and The Pennsylvania Gym Shooter can not possibly be considered humans.
    I will agree with you on this however an EMT course is an excellent idea for absolutely any one who is willing to learn.

    To Marc: I did not have an international audience in mind when I posted. That was my error.
    I am glad that I live in the USA where we do not allow law makers to control our right to defend our family, person, property, and our Constitution. I don’t believe I could live in a country where its citizens allowed there government to dictate there lives in such a manner.

    To all: I suggest that you watch this video and then decide on carrying a firearm on your person is a good idea.

  • Lori Hoeck September 22, 2009, 5:38 pm

    Hi Manny,
    Each martial art and instructor has a different take on self defense and the taking of life. Your three core values seem to work for you, and that is what matters. Hey, survival rocks, ya know?

    My core values are Christ based, which means God can forgive anyone their sins. Plus, I teach students to control their mind and body, and the mind and body of the attacker. This means judgment (“This attacker isn’t even human”), emotional attachment, (“Look at what this attacker has done! It’s horrible!”), and a sense of vengeance (“This person deserves to die!”) must never enter into the equation, or the student will be reacting instead of responding and thus forced into a subtle control by the attacker.

  • Manny September 23, 2009, 1:16 am

    I would like to know your take on the video I provided with the last post.

  • Lori Hoeck September 23, 2009, 9:56 am

    Hi Manny,
    I read of the event, but, as I noted before, I write Think Like A Black Belt with a specific goal that mainly focuses on situations in which an individual is unarmed and fairly untrained. Other forums, articles, and blogs are better places for this discussion and for those readers interested in the topic.